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Can the UN’s SDGs Live Up to the Hype?

At a luncheon to promote the new global goals, people from the private sector mingled with heads of state. Here, Angela Merkel of Germany, Ban Ki-moon of the UN, and Bono, the singer. KIM HAUGHTON/UN PHOTO
At a United Nations luncheon to promote the new global goals, people from the private sector mingled with heads of state. Here, Angela Merkel of Germany, left, Ban Ki-moon of the UN and Bono, the musician. KIM HAUGHTON/UN PHOTO

When the United Nations’ member states gave final approval at a special General Assembly session on Sept. 25 to the new global development policy, they were making a commitment to the most wide-ranging and ambitious plan ever attempted by the organization. Now the hard part begins as experts struggle to decide how to measure the success or failure over the coming 15 years of a staggeringly large number of goals and targets.

The opening declaration of the Sustainable Development Agenda is lofty in the extreme: In these Goals and targets, we are setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision. We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive.

The difference in scale between the MDGs and the SDGs is enormous. The MDGs had only 8 goals, 19 targets, and 44 indicators to measure those targets. The SDGs have 17 goals and 169 targets, which would suggest that measurement indicators could number in the paralyzing hundreds. The SDGs are universal, applying to all countries from the least to the most highly developed.

To continue reading this briefing, published by FUNDS, a research project of the City University of New York’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, click here.

Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.

Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”

Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.

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